Appalachian Transition is devoted to ideas for a more just, sustainable and prosperous future in Central Appalachia. We are at a critical moment in our region. The time has arrived to talk about the coming transition of our economy, workforce and communities. This site is a resource for that conversation.

Appalachian Transition Blog

More youth should have a seat at the decision-making table

Appalachia’s leaders have long wondered how to get more young people involved in matters of state. Since the Shaping Our Appalachian Region Summit last December, there has been a renewed push to involve more young people in processes that will design eastern Kentucky’s future. (Picture from The STAY Project, a youth-led, grassroots regional network of young people working to create sustainable, engaging and inclusive communities in Appalachia. Learn more about STAY, here.) 

Shortly after the SOAR Summit, the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition hosted a call-in day for youth to let their legislators know they supported the Clean Energy Opportunity Act. But when youth began calling in to the switchboards in Frankfort, many were told they could not leave messages for their representatives because they were younger than 18 years old. The youth took action, and steps were immediately taken to end the 15-year informal policy of not allowing anyone under 18 to leave messages for their legislators.

Clearing the way for youth to freely and opening contact their legislators regardless of how young they are is definitely a move in the right direction, and we applaud the Legislative Research Commission for taking such swift action.

But, we are disappointed this week about the limited number of young people on the SOAR executive committee, which is in charge of next steps in the initiative. The list of working group facilitators is also lacking in youth voices. This is certainly a missed opportunity.

If we want to build a brighter future in this state and region, we must provide genuine and dedicated space for youth participation at every level of the process, regardless of their age. After all, it is their future we are building, not our own. And for that reason, their opinions about eastern Kentucky’s future prosperity should perhaps be considered the most important. 

State agency offers predictions for Kentucky's energy future

The Kentucky Department of Energy Development and Independence (DEDI) provided some eye-opening charts at a recent symposium on “The Future of Coal” at Northern Kentucky University. It’s no secret that coal in eastern Kentucky is in steep decline, but seeing where DEDI believes the future will take the industry and the region is very interesting.

First, let’s look at where we are. For all that we hear about a nationwide “War on Coal,” it’s clear that eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia is really where the significant job losses are. In most other areas, including western Kentucky, mining employment is relatively steady or even increasing. 

One of the reasons for this decline is that a number of power plants using eastern Kentucky coal are retiring. This map shows the plants that are or are likely to retire through 2018. The bigger the dot, the more east Kentucky coal the plant uses – clearly, this is going to be a big blow to an industry that is already suffering.

(Click below to read on.)

Structure and process for SOAR initiative announced - it's a good next step

Governor Steve Beshear and Representative Hal Rogers announced the structure and process for the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative yesterday in Hazard. We’ve been waiting for this announcement since Dec. 9, 2013, when an almost 2,000-person crowd showed up at the SOAR summit in Pikeville to share their ideas and suggestions about eastern Kentucky’s economic future.

Severance Tax Dollars Need Stronger Overall Strategy

This blog post comes from Jason Bailey at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. It can also be found on their website.

The House version of the new state budget takes $20 million of coal severance money the governor’s budget had allocated to region-wide programs and local governments and shifts money to over 400 earmarked local projects, many smaller than $10,000. CN2 Pure Politics and the Louisville Courier-Journal have stories exploring potential debate over these changes. It's become commonplace for the coal severance budget to contain a wide array of projects and programs, but without a clear strategy for how they add up to economic development in the state's coal-dependent regions.

Originally, much of the coal severance money went to prop up the General Fund. In 1992, the state passed legislation intended to send half of the money back to coal-dependent regions, to be divided into two streams: a portion for local government budgets and a portion to be used for economic diversification. However, the economic diversification monies were restricted to one strategy—the construction of industrial parks to try to lure industry.

After a series of regional industrial parks were built in eastern Kentucky with little success in finding tenants, the legislature began taking those monies—known as the Local Government Economic Development Fund (LGEDF) —for specific projects in each county earmarked in the budget. The General Assembly also began to issue bonds for water and sewer and other projects to be paid back with future coal severance revenue.

After more than a decade of this practice, the dollars that had accumulated in LGEDF accounts are now gone, a substantial amount of debt is owed on already-bonded projects and severance tax revenue is dwindling in eastern Kentucky as coal declines. The House proposes to keep the money flowing for local projects in part by reducing funding for regional coalfield programs that had been supported through the severance tax budget in recent years including mine safety, Save the Children, and the Read to Achieve program, and by giving local governments slightly less money than the governor had proposed. Projects funded in the House budget include senior centers, volunteer fire department equipment, water lines and parks improvement in coal counties.

The House’s proposed allocation of coal severance monies (not counting the 50% that goes to the state's General Fund) is below:

Worker-Owned Cooperatives for Appalachia

What if the people who are employed by a business are the same people who own it? How would that change the decisions that get made regarding wages, benefits, community participation and the workplace culture? Worker-owned cooperatives are an answer to corporate business models that might not consider the worker impacts of the decisions made at the highest levels. 

A recent op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader promotes this business model as an option for eastern Kentucky.

Erik Reece, the author of the op-ed, went to Cleveland to see how the cooperative model is impacting that city’s revitalization efforts:

Eventually, however, my research led to Cleveland, where I found an economic model that, I believe, would have saved the West Virginia miners and could go a long way toward reclaiming the foundering economy of Eastern Kentucky.

Five years ago, the CEOs of Cleveland Clinic, the Cleveland Foundation and some surrounding universities and hospitals decided they had to do something about the shuttered businesses and derelict neighborhoods that surrounded them. These "anchor institutions"— they weren't going anywhere and they had resources — realized they spent $3.5 billion on goods and services from outside the city. Why not try to redirect some of that purchasing power to create an economy that would employ men and women from the surrounding neighborhoods?

If only 10 percent of that $3.5 billion was redirected locally, it would inject $350 million into an area facing 25 percent unemployment, they reasoned.

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